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The Battle of Alexandria 1801

On the 13th March 1801, the British under General Sir Ralph Abercromby advanced towards Alexandria in Egypt. The French bombarded the British from the fortified city. The British troops withdrew out of range and prepared defences with cannon s landed from the ships and dragged across the sand by sailors.

'From the 13th to the 20th March, we remained quiet, except a little skirmishing with piquets and a few volunteers from our regiment, when the enemy advanced too close. The nights being very cold, and having no cover, we dug holes in the rear of our line, each capable of containing six men, in which we slept; on the 20th we received our tents.... We never had stripped, or slept without accoutrements from the time of landing, and had been under arms an hour before day-light every morning.'
('The Narrative of a soldier' by Sergeant Joseph Coates, 28th Foot. Published 1836).

On the right of the British positions, the 28th Foot were stationed in an unfinished redoubt that was open at the rear. Further back were some Roman ruins manned by the 58th Regiment. Stationed behind these were the 23rd, 40th, and 42nd Regiments along with the Corsican Rangers.

On 21st March the French advanced. Two columns of French infantry advanced on the redoubt. The 28th fired several vollies into the first column, which then fell back. Then both columns moved forward and swarmed around the sides of the redoubt. Colonel Edward Paget (commanding 28th Foot) was severely wounded in the neck and had to hand command to Lieutenant-Colonel William Chambers. The 42nd Highlanders moved forward to stop the French getting in behind the redoubt and after heavy fighting repulsed the French. General John Moore was shot in the leg. But the Highlanders chased after the French and went too far. The French cavalry charged and the Highlanders were forced to fall back. The French launched more cavalry who finally broke through the 42nd Highlanders and then wheeled around behind the 28th Foot.

Seeing the threat, Lieutenant-Colonel Chambers* gave the order '28th Rear Rank; Right-About-Face!' The rear rank turned and standing back to back with the front rank, fired at the French cavalry. Sergeant Joseph Coates was sent with his Company to help the 42nd Foot who were in danger of being overwhelmed:

'The French cavalry charged in three columns, the left of which came round the left flank of our Regiment, over the ground which the 42nd Regiment had left, to charge it in the rear whilst it was assailed by the French infantry in front and just as this column was making the turn to come upon our rear they overtook me. At that time Colonel Pagt ordered the regiment to right about, and firing a volley as the enemy came within a few horse lengths, occasioned a most dreadful scene of carnage: such a quantity of horses falling from the fire occassioned many others to stumble and fall upon them. The remainder were thrown into complete disorder and made all possible speed to return. In joining my regiment I had to jump over several of the enemy's dead horses and men, and turning round was astonished at the execution which had so instantly been done. After the volley the 28th faced about and resumed their fire on their assailants in front, such as had ammunition.'
('The Narrative of a soldier' by Sergeant Joseph Coates, 28th Foot. Published 1836).

The 42nd and the Minorca Regiment now set about finishing off the remaining French. The 28th had by now run out of ammunition and were throwing rocks at the French. Finally the French fell back, the British unable to follow-up the victory due to a lack of cavalry. It was reported that 1100 Frenchmen were buried after the battle.

A force stayed at Alexandria under General Coote, while another force marched up the Nile, taking Fort St. Julien on the 19th May. They then prepared to attack Cairo, but the French surrendered on 28th June. Alexandria finally surrendered on 1st September.

* There is some evidence that the order was actually given by the Adjutant John Buffet.
Major R.A. Wyvill (79th Foot) wrote in 1820:

'The gallant conduct of this regiment gave the first favourable turn to the conflict of the day. At this critical moment the Adjutant of the 28th gave the word 'Rear rank-right about face!' This was readily obeyed, and the soldiers with astonishing firmness sustained a severe attack in front and rear at the same time, without a single man moving from his place.'

Among the casualties was Captain James Gardner, 28th Foot, who died of his wounds.

The Back Badge

Known in the Regiment as the "back number", there is no exact date for the first appearance of this unique distinction.

Major Shadwell Clerke - 28th Regiment 1805/7 - "The Slashers acquired the emblem of the double front in Egypt."

An unidentified Staff Officer, 28th March 1815 -
"I recognised Picton's division standing at attention. In a few minutes the troops broke into subdivisions .... The old 28th followed, having their number both front and rear of their low caps, a memorial of Egypt."

In 1816 the back badge was a square plate worn diagonally on the back of the shako. The plate had a sphinx on a platform bearing "Egypt" over the number 28.

The right to wear the back badge must have been questioned by an inspecting officer at some point:

"Horse Guards 11 May 1823
Sir, Referred to your letter of the 6th inst. I have the honour to acquaint you that it was never our intention to deprive the 28th Regiment of any badge of honour they may have acquired by their distinguished service in Egypt and that there will be no objection to their retaining the plate they have been accustomed to wear on the back of their caps since that service, for which this letter may be shown by you to the Inspecting General Officer as sufficient authority.
I have &c.
H. Taylor, AG."

By 1830 the back badge had changed to a silver sphinx on a platform bearing "Egypt" for officers, and the men wore an oval brass plate with a rope design around the edge and the number 28 stamped in the centre.

Report to Horse Guards from Commandant at Chatham ref deviation of dress in 28th Foot:
"Shinx and a brass number attached to the back part of officers Chacos and a brass number to that of the Chacos of the Soldiers."
22nd June 1843 reply to report:
"22 June 1843 Horse Guards
The Duke of Wellington does not object to the continuance in wear of these ornaments by the officers and soldiers of the 28th Regiment."

In 1876-78 the officers back badge changed to the number 28 inside a laurel wreath. The men's badge was similar but a smaller size. When serving abroad the back badge was worn on the white helmet, however no badges were worn on the front. "This greatly puzzled the natives of India, who could not understand why the 28th apparently wore their headress front to rear." (Lt-Col. R.M. Grazebrook, OBE, MC)

When the 61st became 2nd Bn Glosters it was decided that they should also wear the back badge. As it would be unacceptable for the old 61st to wear the number '28' on their helmets, the design was changed to a sphinx badge (gilt for officers, brass for men) inside a wreath (11th October 1881). The 61st adopted the new back badge at Ahmednagar in 1887.

During the Boer War the shoulder title ('Gloster' in white on a red strip) was worn as a back badge on the helmet. This was probably more suitable for active service than a metal badge. In 1902 an embroidered sphinx without wreath was used on the officers blue forage-caps.

In 1907 an order was issued to troops in India, that no metal badges were to be worn on the khaki helmet. The 1st Glosters were given special permission to wear an unpolished back badge still.

In 1917 the Territorial Battalions was permitted to wear the badges of their Regular Battalions (as a tribute to the service of the Territorials in the war). The 4th, 5th and 6th Battalions adopted the back badge. To commemorate the stubborn "back-to-back" defence of Festubert by the 1st Battalion in April 1918, the order was given that all ranks would wear the larger sized back badge. Badges were soldered to the back of steel helmets, but were supposed to be removed before going into action.

Memories of the 8th Glosters by Pte J.E.L. Baynes - "I joined up in the Civil Service Rifles at Somerset House, London, as I was born in North London. We were sent to France in due course on April 13th 1918 and stationed at Etaples. We were then split up to battalions who had been badly depleted and some of us went to the Warwicks and some to the Glosters. When the Sgt issued me 2 badges, I asked him what the little one was for. I shall always remember the look he gave me and in no uncertain terms he let me have it. Well, after all, I was only 18 and came straight from an office and my military knowledge was practically nil. I soon learnt to be proud of that little Back Badge."

In 1935 permission was given to revert to the smaller sized badge, which was more practical.

In 1940 permission was given for the Gloucstershire Regiment Home Guard units to wear the back badge. Due to the shortage of metal, some brass-coloured plastic badges were issued during the Second World War.